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Maggie Rita's Takes Over Ninfa's

Higher prices, bland food and no really good margaritas to ease the pain.

Armed with those two pieces of information, it's suddenly easy to see why the dishes at Maggie Rita's are so deplorable. How can you pretend to care about food when your target demographic is a 'rita-guzzling Crunchwrap Supreme fan? Why should you put care and effort into your food when catering to the lowest common denominator? Maggie Rita's seems determined to set itself up for failure this way, underestimating a market like Houston which is saturated with excellent Tex-Mex restaurants and a consumer base possessed of a smart, experienced palate that will only suffer through a bowl of garlic-and-tomato salsa once, never to return again.

If I hadn't had to return for another visit, I would never have set foot inside a Maggie Rita's again. Even the cavernous dining room is so charmless and bland that it reflects the lack of care put into the food from the moment you walk in. The walls are painted in dreary shades of rotten eggplant, while the bizarre drop ­ceiling and crooked, mismatched, Kirkland's-­bargain-bin paintings give it an air of insti­tu­tionalism. It's dark, even during the day, and rather featureless aside from some windows that overlook a usually empty patio. I've been in jail cells more welcoming — and with much more character.

Going off of Moreno's claims of margaritas being the key to Maggie Rita's success, however, I determinedly tried three versions of the house cocktail before deciding that I'd rather drink store-bought margarita mix, pour some Jose Cuervo into my mouth and swish it all around before enduring another Maggie Rita. The frozen version was perhaps the most palatable, but not by much. The on-the-rocks version and the flaca (or skinny) version both tasted plastic and bitter.

At least the fajita tacos — served on respectable flour tortillas — are good.
Troy Fields
At least the fajita tacos — served on respectable flour tortillas — are good.

Location Info

Map

Maggie Rita's Modern Mex

1400 Shepherd Drive
Houston, TX 77007

Category: Restaurant > American

Region: Heights

Details

Hours: 11 a.m. to 10 p.m. Sundays through Thursdays, 11 a.m. to 11 p.m. Fridays and Saturdays
Queso flameado: $8
Jalapeños rellenos: $8
Ecuadorean ceviche: $9
Beef fajita chimichanga: $14
Beef fajita tacos: $17
Deconstructed salmon tamale: $22

READ MORE
BLOG POST: How the Mighty Have Fallen: Ninfa's Finds Its Nadir with Maggie Rita's

I even gave the martini a shot — after all, the restaurant has a substantial, much-touted cocktail menu — but after the waitress mispronounced the name of the drink (Maggie Rita's calls it a Cotton Gin, which our waitress pronounced with a hard G), my hopes for it fell. And, indeed, I was disappointed: Instead of the promised Hendrick's gin in my cocktail, the martini had the sour lemon smack of cheap Seagram's. An effort to obtain bitters and soda from the bar was met with puzzlement from the bartender, who'd never even heard of bitters. I fear the cocktail program here may be getting off to a rough start.
_____________________

During my last visit to Maggie Rita's over lunch, I felt a pang of sorrow for our server. He was the only waiter or bartender in the entire restaurant and was doing an admirable job of keeping up. Far more admirable than our previous waitress, who brought out the wrong food and disappeared for long stretches of time to chitchat with her fellow waitstaff — so long, in fact, that our dinner stretched to an intolerable three hours.

No, this waiter was far better, and it pained me to order food from him and then cast it despairingly aside. My cheese enchiladas were covered in an almost entirely flavorless "chile gravy" (which at least tasted better than the ancient cumin-filled chile con carne that tops the chimichanga), while my taco contained beef that hadn't even been given the courtesy of being salted while cooking.

Thinking myself too much of a Tex-Mex purist and maybe unreasonably hard on Maggie Rita's after that first dinner, I'd brought along a new-to-Houston co-worker from Madison, Wisconsin, whose own knowledge of Tex-Mex food ranks a self-admitted "3.21" on a scale of 1 to 10. He cut off a few bites of his burrito before pushing it away and returning instead to his flat Diet Coke.

"Okay, I know nothing about Tex-Mex," he said. "But this is awful. It tastes like nothing. I mean, shouldn't it have some flavor?"

I took a few bites of the bland burrito for myself. The Tex-Mex neophyte was right. It was the wax-fruit version of a burrito, all substance and style but no flavor. And here's where I would be tempted to draw an analogy between that burrito and Maggie Rita's as a whole. But that would be too generous; Maggie Rita's has as little substance or style as it does taste. And now, neither does Ninfa's.

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73 comments
maggieritastinks
maggieritastinks

Where to start?  I don't know.  Have been there three times since changing from Ninfa's to Maggie Rita's so I will address only those things I have tried to eat.  First visit, so bad I don't remember what I ate.  Second visit, nachos.  Burnt and tasteless, prepared incorrectedly, had to ask for jalpenos and got a blank stare, one of many that night.  Tonight. . .OMG!  Ordered frozen margarita with extra salt and beef fajitas.  Here's what I got, margarita, not frozen, not salted.  Beef fajitas, burnt and tasteless, and once again, no jalapenos, blank stare.  I think there is a pattern here  Just beware, you will not find what you are wanting to eat; you will not like the wait staff; you will not like the check; you WILL be happy to leave.  I want my Ninfa's back.  Maggie Rita's, three strikes and you are out!

tdpandllp
tdpandllp

...and this is why we choose to go to Merida's on Navigation for a quick breakfast or meal.  Hello......Houston newcomers, the food and ambience is why its been around so long.

jfviolette
jfviolette

If you liked this review, you're gonna love the one about Vida Tex-Mex.  February 16-22 / 2012.  Check it out. These are the two best reviews I've ever read.  Don't fuck with Katharine.

jfviolette
jfviolette

Katharine Shilcutt has just struck the fear of God in anyone thinking of opening a crappy Tex-Mex restaurant  anywhere within 100 miles of Houston. After this review, and the one she wrote back in Feb. about Vida Tex-Mex, they have just been put on alert.

Jack_Around
Jack_Around

The writing was on the wall, literally, for this place as their signage font is goddamned PAPYRUS. Sums it up right there.

Urkel
Urkel

Soooooo.... you liked it?  You didn't like it?   It's hard to tell.

DoitDoitLeague
DoitDoitLeague

@Lisa1660 Oh Mencia. Yeah fuck that pinche....fuck him.

gingerkmen
gingerkmen

HAHAHAHHA this has me rolling.  Katharine writes the best bad reviews ever.  I had to read it out loud to the office.  We love it.

jaycee_713
jaycee_713

I found a write up from the Chronicle that quotes Mencia (during a recent stand up tour visit) telling the kitchen, "I tasted the charro beans, and I'm, like, 'Hey guys? Seriously, what's up? This is not the recipe.'"  

 

now that's bad!

 

John
John

Maggie Ritas is the worst, most God awful tasting food I've ever experienced. Stay away!!!

mediabeing
mediabeing

Well, that is sad. I'm thinking the other news is that Maggie Rita's won't be around for long. Ninfa's often offered fine dishes and even it floundered due to poor business decisions.

If the dishes are poor at all the Maggie Rita's controlled Ninfa's then Maggie Rita's will be circling the drain soon.

H-Townhunk
H-Townhunk

I was there about a month ago and couldn't agree more.  Food was lousy & the margarita's laughable.  I'm a bit of a germaphobe and noticed a sea of mouse droppings along the wall in one of the event rooms in the Shepard location.  Lost my appetite and left.  There's an abandoned house right behind the restaurant (perhaps that's the culprit).  Still...gross.

jmuscara
jmuscara

. @golocalhouston I think it’s kinda funny that people are upset about “losing” all these “Ninfa’s” locations. I think it’s better this way.

Fayza
Fayza

@CynicalHouston Next column: Why you were homeless in Uruguay for 11 years.

heloiseellzey
heloiseellzey

@CynicalHouston @EatingOurWords The two bar/restaurants that have been put in that Shepherd spot make me miss that dive Time Out.

Aubrey Mar
Aubrey Mar

Horrible food and worse margaritas

gossamersixteen
gossamersixteen topcommenter

Can't help but ask how were the Rita's Kath? That very unfunny person's sexist comment more or less assured me that I will never step foot in one of those travesties.

Breck Dixon
Breck Dixon

They were on a restaurant food investigation, and had green slime in the ice machine.

Irma Sandate
Irma Sandate

Lupes tortilles has raw tortilles, gross

Irma Sandate
Irma Sandate

I ate at the one in Galvedtin and the only thing I liked were the beans

Mo Naqvi
Mo Naqvi

Terrible, food there is a war crime!

Kay M Frye
Kay M Frye

Sad to hear that they have taken over those Ninfa's locations.

Benjamin Schatte
Benjamin Schatte

Tastes like stolen food repackaged in shittier plates. Thanks a lot, Carlos Mencia.

Greg Fullington
Greg Fullington

The one in Galveston didn't make it very long.. That doesn't say much for it..

Blamegirl Says
Blamegirl Says

I think they should save the one on Navigation...

Jon Bowers
Jon Bowers

It's about as Mexican as Carlos Mencia.

SirenaSeafood
SirenaSeafood

@CynicalHouston @EatingOurWords I am a tad insulted with the last paragraph, and agree with the article, crappy food, crappy service.

susanterrywilhelm
susanterrywilhelm

I do believe that it is worth repeating that none of the Ninfa's have been run by the Laurenzo family for quite some time and only the "Original" on Navigation is actually still open, but not by the family.  Maggie Rita's has just purchased those locations and no matter whether you liked the food at Ninfa's or not, what they are serving is a far cry from what anyone would consider decent Tex Mex in a city that has more than its share of options.  Combine that with the lack of service and you have a place that is destined to not be open long.

texmex01
texmex01 topcommenter

I had a feeling this was the place you were talking about......

del.martinis
del.martinis topcommenter

Katherine..sounds like you didn't like it!

kshilcutt
kshilcutt moderator editor

 @Jack_Around Thank you. I'm glad I'm not the only one who noticed that. Bad kerning and poor font choices are the bane of my sad little existence.

kshilcutt
kshilcutt moderator editor

 @jaycee_713 Jesus. If that's not telling, I don't know what is.

etee56
etee56

 @gossamersixteen I think Katharine's comment here pretty much says it all:

 

"I'd rather drink store-bought margarita mix, pour some Jose Cuervo into my mouth and swish it all around before enduring another Maggie Rita."

EatingOurWords
EatingOurWords

@SirenaSeafood @CynicalHouston Insulted by the last paragraph of my review?

BobbyFreshpants
BobbyFreshpants topcommenter

 @susanterrywilhelm Maggie Ritas owned several of the Ninfas for several years. They bought them from bankruptcy years ago but left them as is.

By the sounds of things, the right investment would have been to leave it that way.

jimbo1126
jimbo1126

@texmex01 And I was completely wrong...

SirenaSeafood
SirenaSeafood

@EatingOurWords unless I read it wrong, I’m tired and delirious

SirenaSeafood
SirenaSeafood

@EatingOurWords thing as to where women make the decision of where to eat, saying we only cared about margaritas (the owner?)

etee
etee

@GeoffWidmier @eatingourwords @SirenaSeafood More like "stepping in a big steaming pile of turd, then putting his foot in his mouth."

GeoffWidmier
GeoffWidmier

@SirenaSeafood @eatingourwords I was pretty surprised by that statement. Talk about killing the goose for the golden egg.

 
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